In the new movie Unleashed, Jet Li plays Danny, a man raised in a cage by his tormentor whom he knows as “Uncle” Bart. In reality, Bart (Bob Hoskins) is a nefarious hoodlum who programmed Danny since he was a toddler to be a killing machine. “Get ‘em while they're young,” Bart is fond of saying after Danny's bloody rampages, which begin when Bart takes off Danny's collar, a chrome and leather strap that, once removed, turns the stoic Danny into a killing and maiming dynamo in a cacophony of kicks, twists, and thrusts that leaves his victims, dead, dying, or at least very bad off indeed.
Danny sees the brighter side of life when he escapes after Bart and his posse are waylaid by an errant truck. Injured and confused, Danny is befriended by a blind piano player named Sam (Morgan Freeman) and his stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). They take Danny into their home where he slowly lowers his guard and learns to accept the kindness of strangers. But, as expected, Danny's life takes another turn, when denizens from his past attempt to lure him back to his life of crime and punishment.
Directed by Louis Leterrier (The Transporter), Unleashed certainly presents a side of Glasgow, Scotland that most tourists will never experience…if they're lucky, that is. DP Pierre Morel had to provide the right setting for both aspects of Danny's life. One side is as dark as the dungeon Bart keeps him caged in, while the other side is sunnier and even shows Danny the hint of a bright future.
“Lighting wise, I was trying to have two very different universes between the cold, metallic, grainy look of Danny's life where he's treated like a dog by Bart, which is very dirty,” Morel explains. “Then, we completely changed to a warmer, more comfortable look in the apartment with Sam, which has a family feeling.”
Morel worked hand in hand with production designer Jacques Bufnoir to differentiate between Danny's two worlds and used vastly different colors, so that the different parts of the movie would have a different atmosphere to them. While the change is not exactly as abrupt as when Dorothy landed in Oz, the result is almost subconscious for the moviegoer, as there is no longer an overwhelming sense of dread once Danny makes his escape. “The feeling in Sam's apartment has a very woody, warm feeling, and that's where we were looking to bring Danny from his state of killing machine to a human being,” Morel says.
To go from the dark side to the lighter side of life, Morel actually did not make any drastic changes as the entire movie was shot on the same type of film stock. “We just used different gels,” Morel says matter-of-factly. “I used a lot of bluish gels and green correction lights for Danny's interior [during his imprisonment] and more orange, golden amber gels for Sam's apartment…and that was basically it.” He added that he knew a lot of the color correction would take place digitally in post-production.
As far as sources were concerned, Morel used a wide range of HMIs for Danny's cage in Bart's dank warehouse — which was a location shoot — including 18kW and 12kW Fresnels and PARs, along with several 6kW PARs, and 600, 800, and 1200W PAR Jokers. “When we worked on Sam's apartment where we saw the human part of Danny, then we were on a soundstage and we used a lot of tungsten sources, Dinos, and 10K or 20Ks for windows, and very small fill lights.”
Speaking of fill lights, Morel says he always uses tungsten-balanced Kino Flo fluorescent fixtures, especially ones that are heavily diffused, to make a smaller front light “just to have a little something on the eyes but not too much of a fill light. I always like Kino Flos, but I only use them for a small fill light on faces rather than in big scenes.”
And there are plenty of big scenes, as Unleashed weaves its tale of revenge and redemption from the gutters of Glasgow all the way to the rooftops — with a lot of broken windows, doors, and bones in between. Does Danny go back to his killing ways? Does Bart get his revenge? And what ever happened to Danny's mother? All those questions are answered when the film is unleashed in theatres on May 13th.